|23 - Zaccheus Sunday, Feb 14, 2021|
1 Timothy 4.9-15
An image or icon of the really real is what’s drawn by the words of Holy Scripture. But, that is to say that an image of the Church is what’s drawn by the words of Holy Scripture; for, the Church is the Body of Christ. The Church is therefore the whole mystery of God and creation for, as the Body of Christ, she is the union of the entire fullness of creation (Col 1.19) and the entire fullness of the uncreated divinity (Col 2.9) in the Person of Jesus Christ.
This Jesus of the bible is Himself the Path that ascends to the Father (Jn 14.6). He goes throughout Galilee even as He goes throughout the world now in His Body, the Church (Ps 19.4), gathering to Himself all ‘the lost’ who will follow Him.
In the liturgical year of the Church, we have made that turn where the Path, the LORD Jesus Christ, sets His face to make His way “up to Jerusalem” (Mk 10.32—this was our reading a week ago last Wednesday). Those who would still follow Him will be led, by the time we begin Great Lent four Sundays from now to, His Tomb. That’s where He performs the final and complete healing of the human soul. He unites Himself to our death and becomes absolutely one with us and transfigures the Tomb into the Bridal Chamber. From inside, He rolls the stone away and opens the Royal Doors of creation onto the uncreated mansions of the Heavenly Father.
This is the mystery of God set forth in images; but the images are not imaginary; they are real for they are the form of the really real. By contemplating the images of the Church, we are given to see Christ, the Image of God; and in seeing Christ, we are given to see the really real, the mystery of God hidden from the ages; and in seeing the mystery of God, we are given to see the unseen reality that defines us. Our body was fashioned by God as a temple for His Holy Spirit; our soul was built as a sanctuary, a Holy of Holies, we can say a ‘bridal chamber’ in whom Christ, the Heavenly Bridegroom, the only Lover of Mankind, Himself longs to dwell so that He can make us beautiful as He is beautiful, so that He can deify us.
In this understanding of Jesus Christ as the really real in whom the entire fullness of creation and the whole of divinity dwells bodily (Col 1.19&2.9), I do not read the Gospel story of Jesus as a story of a man but as the story of God and of the whole creation and as the story of my soul. It reveals to me what I’m all about and who I really am.
So, sitting this morning in the Church—in the mystery of Christ—as in the house of Zaccheus, watching in wonder what is transpiring before us, let’s look back at the path the LORD has walked in the assigned readings of the Church’s lectionary these last several days. It is the path that those have been walking in their souls who are desiring to follow Christ back to the Heavenly Father.
On Monday last, He comes into Jericho and heals blind Bartimaeus. Jericho is where the Israelites played the harlot with the daughters of Moab, descendants of Lot’s incestuous relations with his daughters, and worshipped their idols. Note the association of idolatry with harlotry, the perversion of erotic desire. Blindness is one of the symptoms of idolatry. The soul who loves the LORD rejoices in that story, for she recognizes it as the story of the LORD healing her own blindness from her own idolatry.
From there, on Tuesday last, the LORD, as He draws near Jerusalem, curses a fig tree not bearing fruit, so that it withers down to its root. He then, comes into Jerusalem and enters the Temple, and cleanses it, casting out the moneychangers and overturning their tables.
Following the ancient Syriac Christian interpretation, we see the barren fig tree as a symbol of barren Israel. In cursing the fig tree so that it is withered to its root, He prefigures His own death when He will destroy the curse of Israel’s death, the ultimate barrenness of Israel’s idolatry down to its root in the heart. The cleansing of the Temple has the same meaning. In cleansing the temple, He prefigures His Passion when He will cast out the serpent from the sanctuary of our heart to create in us a clean heart, replacing our heart of stone with a heart of flesh, and putting in us a new and right spirit. Then, on Thursday last, Jesus comes back into the temple after cleansing it and begins to teach; and there He will stay in the Church lectionary until we begin to read about His trial, crucifixion and burial in the days leading to Great Lent. That is, having cleansed the temple, an image of our soul, He now begins to teach us as though to get us ready for Great Lent when we will descend into our heart in prayer and begin preparing ourselves to see Him in the terrible joy of His Holy Passion.
And now, this morning, we are in the house of Zaccheus. A rich man by theft, Zaccheus is an image of old Adam who stole the fruit hoping to become rich as though he was a god in his own right (Gen 3.23). In the house of Zaccheus, we are somewhere in Jericho. We are in the temple of our own heart that has become a den of thieves from our stealing what belongs to God, all the blessings and good things He has given to us, and claiming them as our own, i.e., burying them in the ground to feed our own carnal desires.
But the story of Zaccheus is in direct contrast to the story of the rich young ruler. Zaccheus is a rich man who makes no claim to having “kept all the LORD’s commandments from his youth up.” If I recognize Zaccheus as an image of myself and so seek to understand what Zaccheus was experiencing from what I experience when I put myself, just as I am, in the LORD’s presence, what I see in Zaccheus is what I may see in myself: somehow, he was able to feel in his heart the emptiness his riches could not fill; and, in the radiance of Jesus’ presence, he could feel in his soul a sudden longing to come out of herself to follow Him, knowing, somehow, that the only Lover of Mankind was now here before him.
Let us understand: seeing Jesus, Zaccheus is not seeing just another man. He is seeing the incarnate Love of God, the Source of all Beauty and Goodness every living creature longs for. Remember, that when Jesus set His face to go “up to Jerusalem” (Mk 10.32), His disciples were afraid, and the crowd following Him, it says, trembled. It was in fear and trembling that the myrrhbearers fled the Tomb of the risen Savior. “Trembled” comes from the root of such words as grave, burial. There was a numinous aura around Jesus already that must have grown even more intense as His hour drew near and He set His face steadfastly to go up to Jerusalem and to the terrible mystery of His most holy Pascha.
Dear faithful, when we say that Jesus Christ Is ‘in our midst,’ there is good reason for our soul to feel a quiver of fear and trembling. For we are remembering that we are in the presence of the only-begotten God, He Who Is in the bosom of the Father, who by His death in the flesh has destroyed our death and transfigured our heart from a tomb back to her original beauty as the LORD’s most holy bridal chamber.
Do we not see in Zaccheus’ haste to come down from his tree the longing that is suddenly awakened in the heart to receive Jesus into one’s soul? One desires to give Him something very dear to one. But what do we have that is worthy of the LORD? Zaccheus has nothing but the riches he has gotten by theft because earthly riches are what his soul loved. So, what do you see when Zaccheus spontaneously vows to give all his riches away, and more? Do you not see him giving to the LORD the one thing of his that is truly precious to the LORD: the love of his heart? And if our love is now aimed at the Heavenly Bridegroom, does this not mean that our soul has found healing and the joy she was looking for in her empty riches she now regards as dust?
And then, it says, Zaccheus followed the LORD. Can you see that Zaccheus is gladly and in joy denying himself, and losing his life, his riches, that he may find his life in the eternal Riches of the LORD’s Tomb?
This is what the Church is calling us to do this morning. Christ is in our midst! Come down from your high place into the house of your soul to receive the LORD Jesus as your LORD and your God, and to follow Him. Join Zaccheus and the crowd now following the LORD Jesus in fear and trembling up to Jerusalem! The world sees Him going to His Tomb; but, the soul who loves Christ knows she is following Him into the Bridal Chamber and into the entrance to heaven deep in her own heart. He is rolling the stone away, He is tearing down the wall of enmity that cut us off from God to reveal in our own depths the better and changeless Path, Christ Himself, ascending with us into Heaven.
This is what Great Lent is all about. We are on a journey, a journey with the LORD whom our soul loves, to find joy and eternal life in the Father’s House, our true home. Amen!